HC Deb 12 July 1853 vol 129 cc101-25

Order for Committee read; House in Committee.

Clause 29 (So much of the Act of the 12th year of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, chapter twenty-nine, as requires every British ship to be navigated by a Master who is a British subject, and by a crew of whom the whole, or such proportion as therein mentioned, are British subjects, shall be repealed).


said, that this clause proposed to repeal the 12 & 13 Vict., which provides that every British ship shall be navigated by a master who is a British subject, and that three-fourths of the crew shall consist of British seamen. It was of vital importance to the interests of the Navy and the country that this law should be maintained. To repeal it would be only interfering with the maritime supremacy of the kingdom, and bringing the British flag into disrepute, and it would be impolitic, unwise, and unsafe to place a British cargo in the custody of a motley crew of seamen of all nations and castes, civilised and uncivilised, who would be bound together by no common tie of language, country, or national faith. The British flag was an emblem, not only of courage and national merit, but of the indomitable perseverance and unimpeachable honour of our seamen; and he warned the Committee to pause before it placed that flag in the keeping of foreigners, or consented to adopt a clause the inevitable effect of which would ultimately be to break up the stability of our Navy. Was this a time, when the horizon was darkening in the East, to bring in a measure of this description, which was most obnoxious and most hurtful to the interests of this country, which tended to impair our strength at home, and to weaken our character abroad for honour and patriotism?


said, no man was more attached to the interest and welfare of the British seaman than himself, nor could any one more highly appreciate his value to the country than he did; but he thought that truth and honour would induce them to say that after the repeal of the navigation laws, which exposed British shipowners to the competition of foreigners, it was only a matter of justice that they should be exonerated from those restraints which prevented their entering freely into such competition. His view, however, was, that the power given by this clause should be exercised by the shipowners only in so far as they were exposed to competition. Now under the act which was passed two years ago, what was called the "coasting trade" was still secured to the British shipping; and if this clause passed he would propose a proviso to preserve to the British seamen that great nursery for the Royal Navy. That was what the British seamen themselves implored the House to do in their petition; and considering that the coasting trade was not only a nursery for seamen, but a great domestic service in which the children of the sailor found early employment, he hoped the House would not hesitate to accede to his proposal when he should make it on the Motion for the third reading of the Bill.


regretted to find himself in opposition on this clause to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bath (Admiral Walcot); but after the repeal of the navigation laws this alteration was positively called for as an act of common justice to those whose property was embarked upon the high seas. He could not at all think it was calculated to injure the Royal Navy, and it was greatly desired by the British shipowners. There would then only remain the passing tolls and timber duties which the British shipowner could have any possible right to complain of; and he hoped the Committee would not hesitate to negative the Amendment, in spite of the fears which some hon. and gallant Gentlemen seemed to feel about the clause. As for the notion that the effect of this change would be to drive the British seaman into the service of the United States, he did not believe anything of the sort. He remembered the same idea was entertained during the American war; and when the Chesapeake was taken by the Shannon, and carried into Halifax, the men were examined with the view of ascertaining how many of the crew of the Macedonia, which had been previously captured by the Americans, had deserted from the British flag for the service of the United States, and it was found that there were not more than two. The fact was the same then as now, that the British scaman felt no particular regard for the American service; and if this clause passed, the Committee need be under no apprehension of "Rule Britannia" being changed for "Hail Columbia." With respect to that portion of the argument against the clause which contended flint the alteration of the law would prove detrimental to the British seaman, he could not well understand how that should be; for the British seaman had nothing whatever to fear from the competition of foreign rivals. No; his services were too highly valued and appreciated by British shipowners for that. They preferred to have him in their ships beyond all others, but more particularly beyond the Spaniard, who was always upon his knees in a storm, praying to some saint or other, when he ought to be up aloft reefing the topsail; while so far from the Lascar being ever likely to supplant the British sailor, it was notorious that he was a positive hindrance to the navigation of a ship, instead of an assistance. The matter might with great safety be left to the shipowners themselves, who were perfectly acquainted with the best mode of protecting their own interests, which they would certainly attend to by not employing a dangerous proportion of foreigners. The British seaman was duly appreciated everywhere, and no clause of this nature could inflict any, much less a serious injury, upon him.


defended the clause, believing it to be the great redeeming feature of the Bill. On other points he thought the Bill was wanting, but in this clause he had great confidence. He could in no way understand the argument with reference to the injury which it was alleged such a measure would inflict upon our nursery for seamen; and he thought that a sufficient answer was given to it by the gallant officers who had been examined before the Committee in 1847. Upon this point Captain Sir James Stirling spoke with great confidence, and stated distinctly that he did not believe the merchant service was the nursery of seamen for the Royal Navy—that not more than one-tenth of the seamen in the Navy was derived from the merchant service. With regard to the proviso suggested by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ingham), with the view of protecting the coasting trade, he must say that he looked with considerable disapproval on the remaining blot upon our maritime laws—the protective coasting trade; and he would infinitely prefer that our coasting trade should be thrown open altogether than to see it protected as it now was. The sailors themselves, in their memorials, had asked for this, urging that, if foreigners were allowed to enter upon the coasting trade, British seamen would be invaluable to them in navigating their vessels, owing to the knowledge which they possessed of the coasts; and, in the words of the sailors, he said "If trade is to be free, let it also be fair." He should give his hearty support to the clause as it stood.


said, he should rejoice to see the restriction on the employment of foreign seamen removed. The exclusion of foreign vessels from our coasting trade was taken advantage of by the United States to exclude our vessels from the important trade which they called a coasting trade, between New York and California. He wished to see all restrictions removed, and he hoped next year the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to deal with the case of the shipbuilders in respect of the timber duties, because nothing could be more unjust, or more contrary to the principles of trade, than to admit the manufactured article—foreign ships—free of duty, and impose on the home manufacturers heavy duties for the raw material.


apprehended many evils would ensue if the clause were retained, and he warned the Government not to give way too much to the interests of the shipowner, but to provide for the country a sufficient nursery for seamen, that in case of emergency they might know where to obtain them. If foreign seamen should displace the British seamen, it would be fraught with peril to the safety of the country. He hoped the clause would not pass. At all events he should give it his most strenuous opposition.


felt that it would not be respectful to the Committee if he allowed them to go to a division without shortly expressing his opinions upon the subject—especially after two gallant and distinguished Officers opposite had declared their opposition to the clause as likely to impair the efficiency of the British Navy. Certainly, considering the post which he had now the honour to fill, it was his particular duty, to the best of his judgment, to take care that no measure should pass which could prove injurious to Her Majesty's naval service. He assured the Committee that he had given this question the consideration which its importance deserved. In the first place, he would remark that the evidence which had been given by the gallant Officer to which reference had been made, was antecedent to the repeal of the navigation laws. Before the Committee which sat upon the subject, Sir J. Stirling certainly stood almost alone in recommending the change which was now proposed, although the evidence of many distinguished officers was taken upon the greater question of which this only formed a small part—that of the repeal of the navigation laws; and, if he were not mistaken, all the gallant officers examined upon that occasion, with the exception of Sir J. Stirling, and his hon. and gallant Friend near him (Admiral Berkeley) pronounced their most confident conviction that if the navigation laws were repealed, all the fatal consequences which were now predicted with reference to the repeal of the manning clause would ensue, and that the ruin of Her Majesty's service would follow. If they looked, however, to the last returns of British shipping either entered inwards or outwards in the first five months of the present year, as compared with the corresponding five months of 1850, 1851, or 1852, they would find no such result. In shipping entered inwards, there had been a considerable increase. In shipping entered outwards, there had been a very large increase; and, with regard to the coasting trade, there had been an increase of somewhere about ten per cent. What was the fact, again, with regard to the merchant seamen? It was confidently predicted that the repeal of the navigation laws would lead to a diminution of the number of British seamen in the merchant service. Had that been the case? On the contrary, there was at this moment an addition of nearly 10,000 British seamen in the merchant service, as compared with the date when the navigation laws were repealed. The Committee, on manning the Navy, had, he admitted, expressed a strong opinion against the repeal of this enactment, and in most matters not connected with questions of trade he had the greatest respect for the opinion of the gallant and distinguished naval officers who sat on that Committee; but, judging from the opinions they had pronounced as to the navigation laws, his confidence in their judgment, upon subjects of that kind, had been considerably shaken; and, he would avow to the House, that so entirely did he dissent from the opinion expressed in that portion of their report, that nothing could have induced him to propose to Parliament an increase of the pay in Her Majesty's service, or any of those other advantages which the House had so liberally sanctioned at a considerable expense, if he had not agreed with his Colleagues that the proposition for the repeal of the manning clause should be brought forward. What would have been the effect if Her Majesty's service had gone into the market for seamen to compete with the merchant service while this restriction remained? In the present state of demand in the merchant service for seamen, with the amount of the supply of labour restricted, only one consequence could have ensued. The Queen's service would have been pitted against the merchant service. One bidding against the other would have led to the terms for seamen being raised extravagantly high, and the supply would not have been increased in the slightest degree. He thought that the observations of the Manning Committee with regard to the increase of the advantages of the Queen's service were most judicious, coupled with the provisions of this clause; but most injudicious if this clause were not to be agreed to. Certainly he was satisfied that, should the clause not be agreed to, the sole effect of the increased pay and increased charge proposed would be to throw money away—that there would be no increase of the number of men to Her Majesty's service, but that there would be a great enhancement of wages, which would prove highly injurious to the merchant service. What was the fact at present? Was there any want of men either for the merchant service or the Queen's service? Unquestionably not. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Admiral Walcot) had spoken of the necessity of cherishing the interests of British seamen, and expressed his fears that, if this measure were passed, their fidelity would be shaken, and their loyalty would cease. He (Sir J. Graham) had no such anticipations. He did not believe that they could pass any measure which should be politic with reference to trade, which should foster trade and increase commerce, which would not have the double advantage of conferring a benefit upon the seamen, not of the Queen's service alone, but of the merchant service also. If they added to the commerce of the country, they infallibly added to the number of ships; and if they added to the number of ships, they must infallibly add to the number of merchant seamen, and they thereby also increased the supply to the Queen's service from that nursery for seamen which he was anxious to see preserved. Let the Committee see what the position of the merchant service of this country would be if these restrictions with regard to manning were not relaxed. The race of competition with foreign shipping would be close and stringent, and it was necessary that our merchant service should carry no weight which could possibly be avoided. He was convinced, then, that they might safely dispense with these restrictions. He had no doubt of it whatever. The facts consequent upon the repeal of the navigation laws with reference to the increased tonnage and the increased number of men, showed what, in that intense race of competition, were the spirit and the energy both of the British merchant and the British seaman. He defied them to take any course which should really be conducive to the interests of the trade of the country, which should not also be subservient to the common advantage both of the merchant service and of the Queen's service. He quite agreed with two important admissions which had been made in the former debate upon this sub- ject by his right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere). His right hon. Friend stated that British seamen were the cheapest and the best in the world; and he added that he was persuaded the sole effect of this measure would be somewhat to moderate the demand for a very large increase of wages. He agreed with his right hon. Friend, that, all things considered, the British sailor would be found by the British merchant to be the cheapest and best sailor he could employ; and he was sure it would be further found, whatever power this clause might give to add to the proportion of foreign seamen employed in British vessels, that, practically and generally, the number of British seamen, even on board merchantmen, would not materially be diminished. The next admission of his right hon. Friend, in which he concurred, was, that no real injury to the seaman was proposed. Let the Committee recollect how circumstances had altered since the repeal of the navigation laws—let them look at the tide of emigration which ebbed outwards, at the demand for seamen which existed in all the foreign and colonial ports, and particularly the large demand in the United States, and ask how this measure could injure British seamen? Connected with this there was an observation which he must make before he sat down. There were certain points in which he was desirous to relax every fetter which pressed in any possible degree upon the shipping interest; but there was one point to which he attached even primary importance. He could not consent—unless compelled by the manifest opinion of the Committee—to forego for Her Majesty's service what he held it to be their incontestable right to take—volunteers from the merchant service in the most distant parts of the world. He was sure, on the one hand, that if that privilege were foregone, the merchant seamen in distant places would be exposed to undue harshness on the part of the masters commanding merchant vessels; and, on the other hand, he was quite satisfied that it was indispensable in distant and foreign climes, when, in consequence of the climate, the strength of the Queen's ships might be materially weakened, by the entry of volunteers from time to time that strength should be maintained; but, then, if he were right in that view, that was a question which should not be considered abstractedly, and independently of the point which they were then debating. If they gave the right of taking volunteers from the merchant service, they were bound, on the other hand, to give every facility to the masters of merchantmen for replacing those volunteers, on the return voyage, by persons hired without reference to their birth or origin. Upon all these grounds, on which, if it were necessary, he could enlarge much further, he had, upon the whole, the strongest opinion that, on the one hand, it was absolutely necessary to maintain the right to Her Majesty's ships of receiving volunteers on foreign stations, and that that must be counterbalanced by giving to merchant ships increased opportunities of replacing those volunteers by men raised without reference to their nationality. With reference to any inconveniences which might arise from the master as well as the crew being foreigners, he believed that they were wholly imaginary. There would be no such thing as British ships with foreign masters and a foreign crew, having nothing British about them but British colours. The case of simulating the character of British ships was provided for by the 31st and 32d clauses of the present Act; and by the law of nations, also, there was a penalty for simulating the character of British vessels, that penalty involving the forfeiture of the vessel, and other heavy losses On the whole, he had no apprehension as to the measure. He had considered it anxiously and carefully; and so far from this clause being detrimental to the national service, or to the commercial interests of the country, he believed that it would be conducive in the highest degree to the increase of our commerce, and that it would prove inestimably useful as affording additional facilities for the manning of the Navy.


said, that he had been a free-trader all his life, but he thought the proposition before the Committee was carrying free trade a step farther than it ought to be carried. He had great respect for the opinion of the right hon. Baronet; but on a question of this kind he preferred the opinion of the admirals and naval officers, who came to a conclusion which was entirely opposed to this proposition. The only object of this clause could be to bring down the wages of the seamen, and put them into the pockets of the merchants. The merchant service was never in a better potition than now, and he thought the seamen ought to participate in the general benefit. The hon. and gallant Officer, the Member for Glamorganshire (Sir G. Tyler), in which there were many important ports, had, greatly to his credit, preferred the interests of his country to the private interests of a great many of his constituents; and he wished that the representatives of the ports, whom he saw around him, would follow his example. Sir William Parker, Admiral Dundas, Admiral Fanshawe, Captain Richards, Captain Shepherd, the hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Sir G. Tyler), and the hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Captain Scobell), all of them officers of great experience and distinction, had reported against any such proposition as the present. Such was the unpopularity of the naval service, that he much feared they would not be able to man the Navy in times of emergency without resorting to the odious means of impressment, and that the system of volunteers would fail them in time of need. Their seamen would enter the American service, and when danger came, they had only to show that they had the protection of the United States, and nobody dare touch them. He thought the proposition fraught with danger, and he hoped the Committee would reject it.


said, that he spoke upon the subject with as much independence as any one, and nothing should induce him to consent to the clause, if he entertained such fears as had been expressed by hon. and gallant Gentlemen on both sides of the House. They had distinguished themselves in the last war; but they must remember that, since they served, a great change had taken place in circumstances. All the circumstances of drawing men from merchant ships to the Royal Navy were totally altered since those gallant Officers had gained their experience; and they were nearly half a century behind in the knowledge of how the Queen's ships were now manned. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath stated the other day, most truly, what was the case when he was employed in the war time, that they obtained the best able seamen from the merchant service; and those seamen constantly made the best leading men and petty officers. Such was the fact then; such was not the fact now. He had been at the Admiralty now, on and off, some twenty-four or twenty-five years, and it had been his special duty to watch the manning of the Navy. He had taken the greatest possible interest in the subject, being convinced, however numerous their ships, however highly equipped, and however good the officers, without men they had not the means of defence. He had no doubt in his own mind that the Navy now brought up and turned over to the merchant service an equal number if not more men than the merchant service brought up and turned over to the Navy. With regard to the petty officers, he held in his hand a return of those serving on the home stations; and he found by that return that 1,097 were men who had been brought up from boys in Her Majesty's service, and only 285 had entered from the merchant service. There was proof that they were no longer obliged to depend on the merchant service; and though he would not weary the Committee now, when the Bills for manning the Navy were before them, he should produce facts to support his assertion, that the nursery for seamen was greatly altered. Circumstances were changed. A merchant seaman now never rigged or unrigged his ship, and owing to the practice of steamers running from port to port, the number of smacks, which was the best nursery for thorough able seamen, was greatly reduced—in fact, the nursery for seamen in the merchant service was in a great measure cut off. He could assure the House, if he had not been convinced that the Royal Navy would not suffer from this alteration, he would not give this clause his support.


was surprised at the view which the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams) had taken of this question, and very much doubted whether the hon. Member's constituency would approve of the limit which he now wished to put upon the principle of free trade. He had seen one or two sly votes, however, given by the hon. Member, when he had represented other constituencies, not wholly in accordance with his free-trade theories. Parliament had declared that the British shipowner should compete with all the world; and on what principle of justice was it, he asked, that he should be restricted in his means of manning his vessels? Other trades were allowed to employ foreign workmen, and why should the shipowner alone be placed under this restriction? He approved of the Bill generally, and he was anxious that it should pass as speedily as possible. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would, before long, direct his attention to the question of the passing tolls.


regretted that a ques- tion of this importance should have been appointed for a morning sitting. Those sittings were well suited for matters of detail; but this question involved a great principle. If he had a stronger sympathy with one class than another, it was with those who had their capital invested in British shipping. But there was another matter of even greater importance, and that was the safety of the State—that, in his mind, ought to override every other consideration, even though some hardship or possible loss might be inflicted on the shipping trade. When the Government themselves proposed to repeal the navigation laws they hesitated to adopt the principle which they now recommended; but they had changed their opinions, and he thought the country was entitled to be informed why it was that they had done so. The gallant Admiral (Admiral Berkeley) had objected to the opinions expressed by the gallant Officers who had opposed this clause, because they founded their experience only upon the time of war. Now, however much that criticism might apply to the gallant Officers in that House, that was not the case with those officers whose names were appended to the Report of the Committee, which had lately been presented to the House, and who had been unanimous in the strong sentiments which they had expressed upon the matter. The question almost entirely resolved itself into this—what wages were seamen, under this Bill, whether in the Queen's service or in the merchant service, likely to obtain? The right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty had truly stated, that if the Crown had taken steps suddenly to increase the pay and advantages of seamen in the Queen's service, they would have placed the merchant service in some disadvantage by coming all at once into competition with them. But what they were doing now by the present clause amounted to this: they refused to bid one against the other, in order to obtain for the British seaman fair pay for the services which he performed; but they united to beat down the value of those services by bringing the foreigner into competition with him. It appeared to him that the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite were remarkably inconsistent. The right hon. Baronet had admitted, as broadly as he could, that we must look to the merchant service as the nursery of British seamen. Sir J. Stirling said that it was not necessary to look to the merchant navy in order to feed the Queen's service; and the gallant Admiral opposite had given an opinion almost equally strong. The effect of the Report upon the table of the House, however, as he understood it, and of the Bills which the Government were about to introduce, was to set up for the first time a kind of permanent naval service, by which the Navy might be supplied in time of peace from the boys whom it was proposed to introduce into it; but they admitted that in time of war recourse must be had to the merchant service. He regretted that he had been unable to find in that Report any suggestion with regard to any possible means of obtaining the men required in the time of an emergency, except by impressment, which, according to the Report, was the ultima ratio by which the service was to be supplied. If that were so, it became more important than ever to see whether the amount of men upon whom the engine of impressment could be brought to bear, was likely to be increased or diminished. That was a point upon which the right hon. Baronet had touched very lightly; but it must be evident to the most casual observer, that, put the impressment system into force how you would, unless there were a sufficient number of men to operate upon, it could only lead to disappointment. He believed that the effect of this measure would be to decrease the number of seamen who would be available for the service of the Crown. There had been a good many general arguments used, that an increase of commerce must lead to an increase of shipping, and that that in its turn must lead to an increase of men both for the Queen's service and the merchant service. That, he believed, was the argument of the right hon. Baronet opposite; but if that increase of men were not an increase of British seamen, and of the quality of men who were required, it would not answer the purpose intended. It was stated in the evidence taken before the Committee, that, antecedent to the repeal of the navigation laws, a large number of British seamen were employed in foreign service, and the numbers had been variously stated at 15,000, 20,000, and even 30,000 men; and then that it was necessary to secure a constant supply of seamen by the operation of the apprentice laws, which compelled every ship to carry a certain number of apprentices. He quite agreed with the gallant Admiral (Admiral Berkeley) that the training up in the merchant service of first-rate men with a competent knowledge of their profession, was, by the change of circumstances, and the introduction of steam, almost entirely cut away from under them. Feeling that this ground was being every day cut from under our feet, it was impossible not to be struck with the remarks made in the Report upon the necessity of training boys in the Navy, and on the necessity of sending them out in special ships to teach them the use of the lead. This might do some good; but, after all, the men who were of most service in times of danger were not the men who were trained or were sent out in holiday rig. But he would come to the question of increasing or decreasing the number of men. It was quite true, as the right hon. Baronet had stated, that there had been an increase in the amount of tonnage, both entered inwards and outwards, since the repeal of the navigation laws; but the right hon. Gentleman had wholly omitted to allude to the important question of the number of apprentices now as compared with that period. He found it stated in a return before the House, that if, from any circumstance, we gave up training seamen, the tendency must be to lead to the necessity either of supplying their places with a worse class of British seamen, or with foreigners. From that return, which was dated June, 1852, it appeared that the whole number of masters, mates, and apprentices, amounted, in merchant vessels and traders of every description, to 177,000, of whom the apprentices, including all the foreign coasting and steam trade, constituted 14,259. Lieutenant Brown, the gentleman who signed that return, added that the number of apprentices in 1848 was 34,858. That showed a fearful decrease in the number of persons bound apprentices, and that being so, there must of necessity be a decrease in the number of good trained sailors. [Sir J. GRAHAM: That does not follow.] Not follow! He should like the right hon. Baronet to tell him how a skilled labourer, as he contended the sailor was, was to be obtained if he were not taught his trade. The coasting trade required apprentices, and owners and captains took care to obtain them, in order that they might secure their services when they had become of some value. Still, the number had greatly fallen off; and he learned that the same process was going on at this moment in other trades. Owing to the abundance of population, various trades had lately given up, to a great extent, the practice of taking apprentices; but there had since been a great emigration of skilled labourers, and employers began to sing out for hands, on finding they had not secured the means of training others up. In like manner, if they supposed they could secure skilled seamen without taking measures to train them up, they would be disappointed. But he feared the inducements to young men to go to sea were not so great now as they had been. It was true they were doing a great deal to improve the qualifications of masters and mates. That, however, in his opinion, was no inducement for a boy to go to sea. A great majority of masters and mates used to be promoted from before the mast; the best conducted boys soon got made mates, and when they conducted themselves well as mates they soon became masters; but the higher requirements now exacted would have a tendency to stop this sort of promotion. Here, then, was a diminution of the inducements for boys to go to sea, inasmuch as the motive of reward was cut off. But were they doing nothing else? Certainly they were. Just compare the wages given in the merchant service with those paid for any skilled labour in this country, and see whether there was any fair comparison between them. There was not. Consider the wages of a carpenter or a mason. It would then be found that in comparison with skilled labour of those descriptions, the seaman, who was also a skilled labourer, did not receive the reward which he ought. The present wages in the merchant service might be, perhaps, 3l. a month. In the Navy they were not quite so much; and, adding what they pleased for victuals and allowances, they would not find that they amounted to anything like the sum earned by carpenters, masons, and other skilled labourers. In addition to this, the sailor, if he were a married man, was liable to the expense of keeping his wife at home; and the hardships of his life and condition were such as early made him an old man. Coupling the question of wages with the repeal of the apprenticeship laws, there could be no doubt at all of the strong tendency which this measure would have to decrease the number of men who would be available for the Navy. It had been stated that shipowners had been greatly pressed by the scarcity of men which had recently existed. That that had been so for a short time he admitted, owing to the sudden demand for men to navigate vessels to Australia, many of whom, when they got there, went off to the diggings, and did not return to their ships. He doubted whether there had not, however, been a considerable return of these men lately, both from Australia and from foreign service, on account of the increase which had taken place in wages. If that were so, it only strengthened his opinion that it was a question of wages. He was sorry that the seamen appeared likely to be deprived of the advantages to which they were fairly entitled, and that the inducements which were held out to them should be less than those offered to other classes of skilled labourers, because he believed that to the merchant service it was that we must have recourse, in time of war, to man our ships. He regretted that the Report did not touch upon the reason why men preferred the merchant service to the Queen's service, because he thought that it was a problem which required to he solved. He could not understand why the Queen's service should not be the most popular in the world, and he regretted that it was not so. [Sir J. GRAHAM: There are higher wages in the merchant service.] He had compared the rate of wages given in the two services, and he did not find that there was any such difference between them as should lead to the Queen's service not being preferred. Certainly, men in the Royal Navy were not nearly so hardly worked as those in the mercantile marine. If it were only a question of money, however, he regretted that the Crown did not pay such wages as would secure the very best men, for he was sure that if the Royal Navy were made a desirable service, men would be found eager to enter. The subject was, no doubt, one of great gravity and of great difficulty. He admitted that those who had capital invested in shipping had almost a right, since the repeal of the navigation laws, to ask for this measure. At the same time, he had serious doubts what the effect of the clause would be in diminishing the number of seamen, and he thought that the public safety ought to override even that strong claim which he admitted the British shipowners to have upon the Government. He, for one, therefore, could not vote for this clause. He viewed it with great apprehension. He did not think that the inconveniences which were alleged to exist, were sufficient to call for it. He did not think that the shipowners had made out the case that they could not man their ships without it, or that the increased wages which they were compelled to give were at all more than the increased prosperity of that interest, consequent upon the increased demand for vessels, enabled them to give; and he did not see why, for the purpose of a fanciful symmetry of legislation, they should be called upon to run the risk which he apprehended from the passing of this clause.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had spoken unquestionably with great authority upon this subject, and had not only stated the case with plainness and fairness, but had brought before the Committee, divested of extraneous considerations, the true question (whether it were regarded in a naval aspect or a commercial aspect, because, truly regarded, it had but one aspect)—whether by the operation of this clause we should increase or diminish the number of persons employed in the naval service of this country? That, again, was a branch of another great question—because we could not have exceptional legislation for a particular class; but Parliament must act upon broad principles, and must extend those principles uniformly unless a strong case for exception could be proved. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that when the Government introduced the repeal of the navigation laws, they hesitated to apply the principle of this particular clause, and he asked how it was that the Government had altered their opinions? But there might have been reasons then existing which did not exist now. There were very strong apprehensions expressed at that time with respect to the consequences of the change of the law then about to be made. Since that period we had had evidence of experience; and the conclusions to which that evidence had led were—what? They had heard in the course of that debate gallant Gentlemen for whom he entertained the highest respect, and whose services to their country entitled them to respect whenever they spoke upon a question of this nature, speaking against the clause, and they had been told that the naval authorities were almost unanimously opposed to it. At the time, however, to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred—namely, in 1849, the naval authorities gave their testimony with equal unanimity, with greater force, with greater earnestness, and with greater eagerness, against any alteration in the navigation laws whatever. Since that period we had had experience, and there absolutely was not upon record any experience so strong, so conclusive, and so much without exception, as the experience which we had had in the three years that had elapsed since 1849. What was the necessary consequence of the alteration in the law effected by the repeal of the navigation laws, coupled with the reciprocal repeal of the navigation laws in America? Of course, the primary apparent effect was a falling off in the returns of our own shipping, because our ships began to be employed in the carrying trade to and from places not previously open to them, where they found more lucrative engagements, and consequently they did not for a time show themselves in our custom-house returns. There was at first, therefore, a falling off in the tonnage, and that was looked upon as a verification of the gloomy predictions which had been indulged in. Was it so? On the contrary, subsequent returns showed, beyond all possibility of dispute, that the opposite result, to a far greater extent than their most sanguine anticipations could have led them to hope, had been the consequence. He would not weary the Committee with figures, because upon a former occasion he had laid them before them, though briefly. The fact was, however, that those high naval authorities having given that unanimous opinion in 1849, in the short period that had since elapsed, that unanimous opinion had been overruled by the irresistible evidence of facts; and it was too late to ask the House now, high as were the authorities, and deep as was the respect which he paid to them, to yield to considerations of that description. The right hon. Gentleman owned that his opinion had been much governed by one return respecting the number of apprentices. No doubt it was natural, when you repealed a specific law rendering a certain number of apprentices to a certain number of tons absolutely necessary, that there should be a diminution in the number of apprentices at first. But his right hon. Friend had said with the same breath that skilled labour was becoming scarce, and that self-interest rendered it necessary for the shipowners to take apprentices in order to have the necessary' supply of men. Then, if self-interest rendered it necessary to take apprentices, what became of the apprehension that apprentices would fall off? But would boys not be bound? The first effect, as he had said, was a great falling off in the number, and now there were not so many on the books as at that time. The true test, however, was afforded by the number indentured from time to time; and he found that immediately after the first falling off there had been a rally, and that from 1850 down to the day on which he spoke there had been a continuous increase in the number of boys indentured. Surely, then, there could be no reason for apprehensions upon that ground. In 1850 the number of boys indentured was 5,056; in 1851 it had increased to 5,275; in 1852 it had increased to 5,845; and in the first six months of the present year, when labour had been so well rewarded in other occupations, and when there had been so great a demand for boys in other pursuits, 3,731 had come forward to be bound, as against 2,922 in the first six months of 1852. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a question of wages. He admitted that it was so; but why therefore should the advocates of free trade wish them to constitute a special protection for this interest? He asked the right hon. Gentleman to explain this. He had stated that carpenters and masons were well paid, but that the skilled labour of the sailor received wages disproportionately low. Let him ask the right hon. Gentleman, then, what was the benefit of protection, if all the classes of labour which were exposed to free competition were well remunerated, and the only class still protected received wages disproportionately low? By what title did hon. Gentlemen opposite call themselves the seaman's friend, when they came forward to maintain for his benefit this particular protection? But though the wages of the sailor were disproportionately low, the right hon. Gentleman had told the House—what the evidence before him enabled him (Mr. Cardwell) to confirm—that the practice of British sailors going abroad was now subject to a reverse action, and that those who had previously enlisted in the American service were now returning to take their natural places on board British ships. Well, but how did they account for that upon the supposition that wages were disproportionately low? A great deal had been said about the difficulty of finding men for the Navy. He did not know that it was very logical to say that, because there was a difficulty in finding men for the Navy, you ought therefore to contract the market of supply, and so render it still more difficult to supply them. But, however it might tell as an argument, the Committee should know a fact which his gallant Friend near him had just put into his hand, and which was a piece of accurate information. Since the 5th of December of last year nearly 5,000 men had been entered for the British Navy. He would tell them, that notwithstanding the protection which the navigation laws were supposed to be—that "marine charter," as it had been called, which was to protect this country from foreign dangers—we had in the year previous to the repeal of these laws 8,000 fewer men available for our naval service than there were now. Might they not, then, dismiss these idle fears? Might they not apply to this branch of the service those sound healthy principles which, being applied to every other branch, had been proved to work well, and which, in the particular subjects of the building of ships, the entries of ships, the employment of ships, and the tonnage of ships, had been proved by irrefragable evidence to work well? Why should they hesitate to apply these principles to this particular branch of trade? The right hon. Gentleman said that he would sacrifice no practical advantages for a mere "symmetry of legislation." He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman; but he asked what practical advantage were they called upon to surrender? It was of importance that we should have symmetry of legislation; and depend upon it that the day would come when symmetry of legislation would be applied to this question of manning. If by an unfortunate vote to-day they were to reject this clause, they might depend upon it the day would come when they would be compelled to adopt it—for they could not apply free trade to the shipowner, and protection to the sailor. They could not be increasing the sailor's comforts, diminishing to him the cost of sustenance, and giving him all the benefits of free trade, and at the same time continue to him the so-called, but most miscalled, thing "protection." The time of transition was often a time of suffering. Had Providence blessed them with the opportunity of making this change at a time when the transition would not be accompanied with suffering? It might be that Providence had done so. It had, at all events, given to British commerce this opportunity, that there was a demand for shipping and for sailors which no amount of supply could satisfy. There did exist an opportunity, therefore, of not giving a mere pedantic symmetry of legislation, but of giving another example to other countries, and of holding out another inducement to them to follow with a good heart in the course which they saw to be operating so beneficially for us. Such being the singularly fortunate state of affairs, he believed that they might safely make this transition at this moment without the apprehension of inflicting any temporary injury or inconvenience upon the interests with which they proposed to deal.


said, he wished to state a few of the reasons which induced him to support Her Majesty's Government in this clause. The question had been considered under the two heads of national and commercial policy. Under both aspects the subject was one which involved a good deal of speculation; but he considered that the apprehensions which had been expressed in respect to each had been most satisfactorily answered. When the Motion for repealing the navigation laws was made, great apprehensions were felt for the consequences, which the result had certainly failed to realise; and having that experience before him, was it reasonable, after they had swallowed the camel to strain at the gnat? Was it not natural to suppose that the evils which were now foretold from this clause, would prove equally futile and exaggerated? No man had been more opposed to the repeal of the navigation laws than himself, and no man had taken more trouble to inform himself of the probable consequences of that measure; and he was now bound to say that the apprehensions he then felt for the result had been disproved. He was bound also to add, whether from the altered circumstances of the world, or from commerce having found new channels of enterprise, that the shipping interest was now in a much more prosperous state than it had been in the latter years of protection. With regard to the clause now under consideration, the Shipowners' Association of Liverpool were in its favour—they stated that they approved of the clause, and that they considered that, as British ships were exposed to competition with the ships of all nations, so all restrictions on the employment of foreign sailors ought to be removed. If, as was alleged, there was a scarcity of seamen, why should the House oppose itself to the introduction of a new supply? There were two sides to this question. Shipowners were exposed to unjust demands on the part of the seamen; and why should they not have the means of supplying themselves if they had the opportunity? The profits of shipowners ought to be considered as well as the wages of seamen; and the shipowners generally, under the circumstances in which they were placed, were favourable to the clause as it stood. In conclusion, as one of the representatives of Liverpool, he considered that in voting for this clause, he should be acting in accordance with the wishes of his constituents and the interests of the country.


said, that many grievous burdens still remained upon British shipping, such as the passing tolls and the like, and therefore it was the more necessary, in his view, that this clause, which dealt manfully with the subject, should be agreed to. He was greatly surprised at the speeches which had been made by the hon. Members for Lambeth and for Bath, and was astonished that they should have proceeded from free-traders. It had been argued that the effect of this measure would be to reduce wages. He in no way accepted that view. He regarded this Bill as a corollary to the repeal of the navigation laws, and inasmuch as he had argued then against the notion that the repeal of those laws would reduce the rate of freights, but would tend to equalise them, so he now contended that no reduction of wages would follow from the present Bill. He trusted that the Committee would speedily go to a division upon this clause, but still that they would do so with a full conviction of the importance of the principle which it involved.


supported the clause, but entered his protest that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty had attempted to unite it with another clause which he believed was calculated to perpetuate a principle of the grossest injustice—he alluded to the clause which enabled the captains of Royal vessels to take volunteers from merchantmen who wished to break their contracts with their employers. He saw no connexion whatever between the two clauses, and be protested against the arguments on the subject which the right hon. Gentleman had employed.


having long advocated the necessity for a provision of this nature, thought he had reason to congratulate himself that it was now proposed by Her Majesty's Government. We had already exposed our shipping to competition with the world, and it had rapidly improved under the stimulus. Expose our seamen in the same way, and he had no doubt that the same results would follow. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) was quite right in his statement as to the diminution of apprentices; but this was easily accounted for. For a long period shipowners had been compelled to take a certain number of apprentices in proportion to the tonnage of each vessel, and when they were relieved of that compulsory measure it was very natural that there should have been a temporary reaction.


said, he had had some half century of experience of the character of British sailors, and he was pretty well acquainted with their good and bad qualities. It had been stated that our shipowners would man their vessels with Norwegians, Danes, Spaniards, and the like; but suppose they did, what was to become of the ships belonging to those countries—would they be left unmanned and rotting in the harbours? Why, of course, those countries that at present paid their seamen less wages than we did, would be compelled to raise their pay, and to get their sailors back again. If the hon. and gallant Member for Bath had inquired before he stated that British seamen would be replaced by Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutchmen, Spaniards, and Portuguese, he would have found that the wages of the Danes and Dutchmen were quite as high, and the wages of the Spaniards, generally speaking, were higher than in this country. His opinion was, that, if the clause passed, they would not employ one English sailor the less, and not one foreigner the more, but they would put a cheek on that disgraceful and wholesale desertion carried on by English seamen. At Quebec it was a regular practice for the crews to desert, to remain concealed until other men were engaged, probably at double wages, and then to engage with the next British ship, the crew of which had in their turn deserted. The same system was carried on in the Australian ports, The crews did not go to the diggings, for, in a physical sense, they could not stoop to low work; but they waited in turn for the next ship that was deserted, and then obtained 50l. or 60l. for the voyage home. He objected, however, to that portion of the clause which enabled a British ship to be commanded by a foreign master:—the shipowners would consider that no boon whatever, and it would never be resorted to, except to cover some illegal or sinister object. He did not think it prudent to entrust the British flag to men who owed no allegiance to the British Crown.


replied. He contended that the Government viewed this question through a false medium. They were, after all, but landsmen—country Gentlemen who sat at home at ease—and he did not think their opinion entitled to much weight. But such as it was, in 1849 one-half the present Ministers were opposed to a repeal of the manning clauses, and in 1853 they had changed their opinion, and were all unamimous in favour of it. It was said that, since the repeal of the navigation laws, freights had greatly risen. If the shipowners were so well off, why were the sailors to have their wages kept down? Sailors were not like carpenters and masons; they afforded safety to the country; their case was an exceptional one, and ought to be treated as such. If this Bill passed, sailors would not freely enter the Queen's service, and there would be no means of manning the Navy in a case of emergency, without some stringent power. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty had boasted that since the 5th of December we had enlisted 5,000 seamen. Five thousand men in seven months! What was that? Why not 800 a month. If a war should break out, we should want 20,000 in a month; and he was convinced that, if this clause should be passed, we might find ourselves in a dilemma from which it would be impossible to extricate ourselves without recourse to very unpleasant means. We might have other Niles and Trafalgars yet to fight, and he entreated the Committee not rashly to abandon the laws under which those glorious victories had been won. Even if the power of taking volunteers on foreign stations were retained, there would be no necessity for this clause, because, when a merchant vessel was short of hands, the captain, by obtaining the certificate of a consul, could take as many foreign seamen as he pleased, and, in case of necessity, the Queen, by proclamation, could admit as many foreigners to the merchant service as she pleased, and for as long as she pleased. The gallant Admiral (the Member for Gloucester) seemed to have forgotten his own evidence which he gave in 1849, and in which he said they generally got better seamen from the merchant service, and that the manning clauses were very necessary, and ought not to be given up. If the proposition had been to extend the limit of foreigners from one-fourth to one-third, he should have voted against it, but it would not have been so startling a change. He believed these clauses, which it was proposed to repeal, essential to the safety of the country, and to the efficiency of the naval service. It was said he was not a free-trader. That he denied; he was a sound free-trader, but free trade had nothing to do with this question. They could not buy and sell seamen; they must remember they were their countrymen—that they had great claims on their consideration—that they had given them encouragement for the past 200 years, and during those 200 years they had never had the foot of an enemy upon their shores. It was said that naval officers had been mistaken about the navigation laws, and therefore their opinion was worth nothing upon the manning clauses. They might not understand the navigation laws perfectly, but they did understand how all England's naval victories were won—that it was by an esprit de corps, which they had not now, and would not get at all, if this policy were pursued of creating dissatisfaction in the minds of the seamen. In 1849 they repealed the navigation laws, but they did not venture to repeal the manning clauses. But they did repeal the apprentice clauses, and the result had been most alarming. Out of 414 emigrant vesels leaving this kingdom in one year, 300 had no apprentice on board at all. He hoped the Government would reenact the apprentice clauses, in order that they might be able to man the Queen's ships, which they could not do now, for he understood some of the ships at Spithead had been many months in commission, and were not manned yet. He hoped the House would reject the clause. No effort should be wanting on his part to get rid of it. He believed it was of the greatest consequence to the wellbeing of the country to do so, and when the question was more understood, many would deeply regret voting for it. He called upon hon. Members to free themselves from all influence, whether Ministerial or selfish, and join him in throwing out the clause.

Question put, "That Clause 29 stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 142; Noes, 36: Majority, 106.

Clause agreed to; as were Clauses 30 to 37 inclusive.

House resumed; Committee report progress.

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